As I celebrate seven years of marriage to my husband this month, I thought I’d share an adapted version of a letter I recently sent an engaged friend as her wedding day approached. As much as I was writing this letter of love, encouragement, and marriage advice to her, I was also writing it to my past self; I hope it can offer something to anyone else who is engaged, or thinking about marriage.
I wanted to send you a little note as you get ready to celebrate your wedding day, because this is such a precious, strange, tender, and utterly unique time in your life. I remember feeling so overwhelmed at the prospect of all the big changes ahead, and wondering how on earth I could adequately prepare for it all. The future was so uncertain; how was I to truly know what I was promising? (I know now, of course, that we never do—that this is the most extraordinary leap of faith two humans can make together.)
So, just in case you feel any pressure to be perfect, to have it all figured out ahead of time, here are a few things I’ve learned over the past seven years of marriage that I hope can guide you through the better and the worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health…
You won’t be the most beautiful you’ve ever been, or ever will be, on your wedding day.
You won’t magically have perfect skin, your dream figure, flawless hair, and airbrushed features. You’ll be the same woman, wearing a very special dress, as you are on any other day. (And, yes—he’ll be the same man.) You’ll have the same desires, fears, insecurities, wounds, ambitions.
There was a moment that was never captured on camera, a moment when your fiancé fell in love with the way your eyes smile when he’s teasing you, the way your hair falls when you’re getting lost in a conversation that’s lighting you up as you talk, the curve of your mouth when you’re concentrating on something and don’t even realise he’s watching you. There will be other moments, too, when he wakes before you do and listens to your breathing, soft on your pillow, or when your face—clean from all makeup—is flushed with the pain and joy of childbirth and you look up at him to share the awe and wonder of that moment as your newborn is laid in your arms.
These are the moments when he’ll find your beauty truly heartbreaking, as he thinks to himself, “How did I get so lucky?” These are the moments he’ll remember when he thinks of your beauty.
Not everything will go smoothly on your wedding day.
You might have forgotten someone’s food intolerance, misspelled a name, made a bad judgement on the seating plan. It might rain, someone might not like the music you chose, a couple of glasses might get broken, a friend might have just broken up with their partner and be feeling tender and sad on your special day. People will stub their toes, get blisters or the flu or indigestion, and who knows what else will happen—because that’s just life.
But whatever happens, the people gathered to celebrate your wedding day with you will be looking at you through the lens of love and profound joy, because you are such a treasure, such a bright light in our lives, and we’re overjoyed to see you two take this beautiful step together.
Whatever happens, it will be a day to remember, because it was the day you promised to be true to the love of your life before God and your loved ones. It will be a beautiful day, a happy day, and special day. No day is perfect, but your guests will appreciate care and attention you poured into putting this celebration together, and we will surround you with our best love and prayers. There will be so much grace that day that it will warm your heart through the years to come as you remember it.
You won’t have a perfect marriage.
I hate to break this one to you, but it’s important to know this now so that you don’t feel alone and like a failure when the shine starts to wear off.
You’ll get into all kinds of arguments that escalate too quickly and leave you exhausted and wondering what you were even disagreeing about in the first place. Silly arguments about how to stack the plates in the dishwasher, whether or not something was a waste of money, who’s more tired, which film to watch, where to spend Christmas, whether you should go out that evening, how late to stay at work. Significant arguments that reveal wounds that need healing. There will be disappointments, and you’ll both feel misunderstood, rejected, hurt, and even unloved sometimes. You’ll have to fight to break bad habits, and to create good ones.
You’ll both change, and you’ll have to learn each other—and yourselves—over and over again, because you’re a deeper mystery to yourself than you might realise right now. One night you might even find yourself feeling lonelier in that marriage bed than you ever felt sleeping alone. You’ll get lost over and over again, and you’ll have to make an active choice to find your way back to a place of love and forgiveness each and every time that happens.
You’ll figure it out as you go along.
Standing by this choice you’ve made will take work, because here’s the thing I wish people understood before they took this step: marriage doesn’t fix anything. We can’t ask that of our relationships. We need to learn to belong to ourselves before we can give ourselves in selfless love to another person.
This will be a life-long quest for both of you, because it’s a lesson we never stop needing to learn. It’s a lesson you can’t learn in theory, before you’re on the ground; you’ll learn it in starkly-lit hospital rooms, on the dance floor, at the dinner table, in each other’s arms. You’ll learn it once there’s no taking that promise back.
You are enough, exactly as you are right now. Your desire, your mutual commitment to stand by this decision, is all that matters.
You are loved, so very deeply loved, exactly as you are right now. Loved by your fiancé, by your family, by your friends, and most of all by God.
You, your wedding day, your fiancé and future husband, your marriage—all of it is, and always will be, deeply flawed, deeply good… perfectly imperfect. This is exactly how it should be; the failures, the times you both mess up, the imperfections, the learning curve—it’s all a necessary part of the adventure. It’s all a part of becoming the people God created you to be.
Know now that for all the times to come when things feel a little tarnished or even broken, there will be other times when your mind is lost in worry about something and he lifts your chin to look at him so he can tell you how much he loves you, when you turn towards him in the dark with the deepest, most profound sense of peace and gratitude you’ve ever felt in your life, when you catch his eyes across a crowded room one completely ordinary day and feel a spark that sets your soul on fire. For all those times you feel misunderstood and alone, you’ll also experience what it means to be profoundly cherished by another human being, what it means to be held in the gaze of your beloved.
So, I suppose what I’m trying to say is this, dear one…
Try not to worry about perfection, or about tomorrow, or the day after that.
All you have to do on your wedding day, and every day for the rest of your life, is to show up each morning with an open heart, ready to try your best to embrace God’s will (which is perfect love).
Your wedding day isn’t the “happily ever after” of your life’s story, because happiness in marriage isn’t a destination, but rather a path that you undertake to stumble along, together. Your wedding day isn’t the end of your great love story, it’s just the beginning.